Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Zoo unveils its newest and largest addition today -- the African exhibit, where hundreds of African animals have made their new home and are patiently awaiting sightseers.
Visitors traveling through the most recent addition of the Kansas City Zoo may feel as though they're starring in a scene from "The Lion King."
The naturalistic African exhibit opens to the public today, and as African wildlife such as lions, panthers, wart hogs and baboons graze, play and sleep on 95-acres of plains, zoo-goers get the feeling they are truly taking part in an African safari.
"It presents the public and the animals with a more realistic experience," said Scott Wade, community program specialist for the zoo. "It's really, really neat how all of the animals fit together."
The $30 million exhibit is the largest in the zoo's history and one of the biggest zoo expansions in the country. The addition vaults the Kansas City Zoo into the top 10 of the nation's largest zoos.
It will focus on the wildlife and culture of four African countries: Kenya, Zaire, Tanzania and Uganda. More than 400 animals will live in the African exhibit, and many will roam freely on large areas of land, helping them to feel as though they are in their natural habitat.
And to ensure that members of the public feel as though they are at home with the animals, the exhibit will also have live interpreters who play the roles of researchers and field guides and interact with the visitors.
Darryl Stamp, one of the live interpreters, plays a man from Kenya named Samuel Mwanga. Stamp, an actor, talks in an African accent as he stands in an area of the exhibit called the market place and explains to the visitors what it is like to live in Africa.
"The view is so much like my country," says Stamp, acting out his African character. "It makes me feel at home to see all the rolling hills, trees and rivers."
The renovation, which began in 1990 with the passing of a $50 million bond issue by Kansas City, Mo., residents, still is not complete. Also scheduled to open in December is a 2-acre building that will house the first IMAX theater in a zoo in the world. The theater will serve as the new entry to the zoo and provide space for the zoo's education program.
The renovations already completed are an 8-acre Australian exhibit, the Okavango Elephant Sanctuary, and the International Festival and Farmland in the U.S.A., which are domesticated areas where the public has the opportunity to touch animals.